09/07/2012 11:49 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 02:07 EST

Dispatches From Down East: Offering Random Acts of Kindness


We are away on a camping trip over the summer, and in between visiting the pool and relaxing with a good book in my lawn chair, I also am regularly checking the email inbox. There is the usual spam. But sandwiched in between those, I come across a new mail delivery from a colleague of mine. He and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in the areas we teach and also have very different social circles within our work environment. However, as we had collaborated ideas at the committee level during the past year, this particular email popped up mid-summer vacation in my inbox.

As expected, the first part of the email was all business, relating directly to a few professional matters at hand. But as my eyes skimmed toward the end of the note, I realize he has included an encouraging personal note, along with a few uplifting comments regarding my contributions in the workplace.

At first, I am taken aback as I re-read this portion of the note. In spite of how refreshing it is to get this kind of feedback, it is also unexpected to read a note, from anyone other than my boss, that highlights positive contributions made in the workplace. Sadly, there are few, myself included, who take the time to call or write, let alone vocalize in person, positive contributions made by fellow employees and colleagues. This note I received was unprovoked by any offers of incentive and thus did not get any brownie points from those in the upper echelons or from administration. It was seen by none other than me. And because it was a spontaneous offering of encouragement, it meant a lot.

The power of a positive comment.

With the adjustments that autumn brings, it is common for many of us to look at the change in season as being a change in routine. Even viewing this transition from summer to fall as a new beginning. It certainly is such for students and parents, but it also can be that as well in the professional world. With the summer holiday season nearly over, the focus is on buckling down to more of a structure in our day-to-day lives at work and at home. And this newly gained structure means that we are all thinking of ways to re-vamp, re-organize and co-ordinate our lives in new and more effective ways.

As a parent, I love the focus that our schools place on positive affirmation. Our school is reading a book called Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. The focus in many schools today is on proactive solutions to preventing bullying within the school environment, promoting the power of supportive words and positive actions as a means to ending bullying practices within the school environment. We are doing a good job at thinking and planning for children. But many times we adults miss the golden ticket via the learning opportunities afforded our children.

Filling buckets is not child's play.

The focus in this children's book on using encouragement and affirmation to "fill up" the invisible buckets we all carry around with us (vis-a-vis our self esteem and confidence) is also necessary for well-being, vitality and growth within the workplace. It is a well-spring of opportunity. When we use our words to build up those around us, there is a direct effect on employee output and workplace happiness. Although this comes naturally within the social circles we naturally interact, it is much harder to make the effort outside that comfort zone. But when we take the time to recognize people other than those who are our intimates and friends, in positive, affirming ways, something different happens.

Workplace climate improves for everyone involved. Exponentially. And by increasing the positive interactions in our usual network within which we naturally socialize, and extending that kindness to those outside this circle of connections, we gain something by way of old-fashioned good manners and brotherly love, in return.

That's the power of making a difference.